|This book is absolutely packed, I mean REALLY packed full of good stuff. Ben has pulled out all the stops for this one folks. I've read a lot of instructional books in my time ranging on subjects from: video editing, compositing, authoring, project management, etc. Ben's book, Compression for Great Digital Video has all the makings of an industry handbook. The completeness of this book has raised the bar, in my book, for all others like it. Basically, we now have a bible for compressionists worldwide. Ben takes an object oriented approach to compression work so that the reader learns from the ground up about the underlying technologies that we work with everyday.
Chapter 1: Not really a chapter, but more a preface to the rest of the book.
Chapter 2: This chapter begins the journey through the basics of light and sound. As I previously stated in my initial review; at first this seems to be overkill. However, read it and you will see that this information is fundamental toward understanding HOW compression works and what it must change in order to work well.
Chapter 3: This section on Fundamentals of Compression begins to explain to the reader what power they have over the picture and sound when compressing and how that power can be exploited (not in a bad way). This chapter begins to show the importance of the previous one and brings those ideas together such that ~ the science of compression really does make sense and isn't just magic! Note: I especially like the descriptive charts and illustrations where needed ~ very nice touch. The color section with sampling info and comparisons was also helpful.
Chapter 4: Is an overview of the processes involved in creating digital media. Ben touches on preparation, production, post-production, compression and delivery as a synergistic process. This chapter also begins Ben's balanced mediocrity metaphor. It is helpful to follow this train of thought since it is later mentioned throughout the book.
Chapter 5: This is where the reader can roll up the sleeves and start doing some real work ~ my favorite part. Now that we have a fundamental understanding of compression, we can begin to manipulate our images and sound more effectively. As Ben states in this section, image and sound compression begins with planning. Preproduction preparation is covered keeping your goals in mind and laying the foundation for smooth production. The production section covers the Do's and Don'ts and offers in-depth explanations of those methodologies. In other words: Ben says much more than just do this and don't do that. The post production section here continues more general advice on techniques for optimizing digital media through attention to your processes. This chapter proves that great compression begins WAY before you import clips into your chosen compression software. Note that, as far as I know, no compression utility has even been mentioned up to this point.
Chapter 6: From here on in, the book gets much more detailed in all of the processes. This chapter, Ben gets very specific about digitizing media. Formats, connections and standards are covered for those that need a refresher or for those that have no knowledge of these subjects.
Chapter 7: Preprocessing video is covered in depth in this chapter. In precise detail, Ben covers most (if not all) possible ways to manipulate video to make it's compressed equal into something viewable by the masses. The idea here is to make the highest quality image you can before the video codec compresses it. Subjects covered here include: cropping, deinterlacing and inverse telecine, scaling, resolution, noise reduction and other image enhancing techniques.
Chapter 8: Video codecs are covered next with generic information that could be applied to nearly any vendor's technology. There are only so many things a codec can really do. This section covers them all in great detail. I learned a good bit in this section myself. I especially enjoyed the section on color space and the sections on keyframes. The continuation of balanced mediocrity is well received and fitting in the subject of video compression. This part is a must read for those who consider themselves artists and or craftsmen. It is important to find that happy medium. This section describes how to do just that.
Chapter 9: Next, Ben covers the dirty details of audio codecs. This chapter is much the same as Chapter 8 except that it details audio rather than video. There is also a very helpful section in here regarding trade-offs ~ akin to the balanced mediocrity section from previous chapters.
Chapter 10: This chapter gets into the details of creating media for CD-ROM, DVD and Kiosk use. If you intend to create these types of media, you will NEED to commit this info to memory. It will be the basis for all media you create for these types of distribution. It covers the all important subjects of: peak data rates, disk space limits, interactivity, cross-platform considerations, installers and details on the various formats. There is also a very cool little section on how to use VBR and keyframes creatively to save time when compressing multiple files. This is one tip I'm sure to use soon!
Chapter 11: Web video is a subject near and dear to my own heart. I've been compressing web video for nearly five years and it's what I do everyday. So, it's no wonder this section is important to me personally. Suffice to say the basics of web-delivered media are covered quite well here.
Chapter 12: This chapter merely touches on different methods for creating interactive media. It doesn't go into great detail; nor should it. However, it is very helpful for compressionists to know this section as it will undoubtedly affect them in some way. Someone else down the line may use your media in such a way and it helps to know those processes at least on the surface. You may even be encouraged to start creating interactive media after reading this. There is some really cool stuff you can do. The tools are all there, it's just a matter of putting them to use.
Chapter 13: One of the defining chapters of Ben's book is right here. This section covers the decision making process for which format best fits your client's needs. The format you compress to (and possibly author with) depends completely on your client's needs. If they want certain interactivity, they have a choice to make. Which interactive features work better in what formats? Etc. This section discusses the important details of: compatibility, installed base, codec flexibility, etc. The end result is that you have enough information to make the right choice a simple one for your client.
Chapters 14 through 22: These chapters go over the most minute details of the various formats that you can compress to. QuickTime is covered in great detail: Partially since there is so much to cover and (I think) partially because Ben knows QuickTime so well. Kudos to Ben for the detailed sections on the various flavors of MPEG! These chapters don't just cover codec intricacies, but also look at options for authoring with the formats and further references. If you think you know MPEG-4 (or even if you don't), I URGE you to read the chapter on such. Many times, I've noticed, people who THINK they know MPEG-4, don't really know it at all. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
Chapter 23: Compression tools help you get compression done right. Selecting the right tool for the right job is essential. Don't think that one tool can do everything. There are a lot more options out there than many people care to research. However, this section makes your job of tool selection a little simpler. As a compressionist, I appreciate Ben's no bones approach to evaluating these tools. He knows them all pretty well and tells you the weaknesses and strengths for each tool.
Chapter 24: I found this chapter to be of significant interest. Many compressionists go through their days without giving workflow optimization a look. They figure the real work is done by the compression tools anyway. There are so many possibilities that automating the workflow can be a dizzying task. The key is in knowing how your compression tools work and capitalizing on its associated automation abilities. Now, if you only compress one or two files at a time, this section really won't affect you as much. However, for those of us that compress dozens to hundreds of files per day, this section is a must. This is another very nicely detailed chapter, by the way; even though it is just an overview.
Chapter 25: Tutorials. Well, what can I say? I didn't do the tutorials. I may eventually do them. After all, I have tons of files to work with here. I think what I'd rather do is just put this newfound knowledge to work. In fact, before I even wrote this article, I began to outline some process changes that we need in order to boost the quality of our interactive media.
Wrap up: Ben has really outdone himself in writing this book. I know it took a lot of time and effort and it shouldn't go without reward. Ben, I hope you make a bundle on this book so we can get more on down the road. For all you compressionists and apprentices out there, GET THE BOOK! When someone says RTFM about any compression related questions; remind them just which book should be read: Compression for Great Digital Video by Ben Waggoner.
I give it 5 COWs !